It's an allegation that has been leveled at Tokyo for years by environmentalists: In its quest to have international conservation regulations shaped the way it wants, Japan uses generous aid packages to buy the votes of developing countries in international bodies.
That charge surfaced again at last week's meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) here. The flash point was a defeated proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, which sparked the resignation of a Caribbean minister who accused Japan of "international extortion."
Atherton Martin, a well-known environmentalist and minister for agriculture and fisheries in Dominica, quit his government post in anger, charging that his country had been coerced by Japan into rejecting the sanctuary. Five other Caribbean island nations also voted against against the whale refuge.
"It is international extortion by Japan," Mr. Martin said in an interview from his home in Dominica. Japan is "undermining the viability of these economies in order to pursue her agenda internationally."
Australia's environment minister, Robert Hill, blames the six naysaying Caribbean nations for tipping the scales against the sanctuary. "It [the Caribbean bloc] was the one bloc that really defeated us," said Mr. Hill. "For the first time in my memory the island states across the world split at an international forum such as this. The Pacific islands rely on the Caribbean islands and vice versa and in this instance they were let down." An overwhelming majority of South Pacific countries supported the sanctuary.
Japan maintains that the sanctuary had been proposed without sufficient scientific research. "The sanctuary was an absurd proposal which failed to distinguish between endangered species and those that are abundant, and its implementation would have led to adverse effects on fisheries management," says Minoru Morimoto, the Japanese commissioner to the IWC.
But environmentalists say Japanese aid to those countries bought those votes long before the ballot.
"To all but the truly naive it's clear what's really going on here," said Patrick Ramage, spokesman for the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare. "Sometimes you get what you pay for, and a 'no' vote on the South Pacific sanctuary was bought and paid for by Japan before this IWC meeting ever began."
Japan has funded the building of a multi-million- dollar fish processing plant in Dominica and promised to help build two more. Martin says, however, that after his country's government decided to abstain from votes at this year's IWC meeting, Japan threatened to withdraw funding for the two additional plants. That, Martin maintains, led the the prime minister, Roosevelt Douglas, to take charge of relations with the IWC himself and ensure that the Dominican delegation sided with Japan.
"In a situation where money is tight, he caved in to pressure," says Martin, adding that Japan is now paying Dominica's dues to the IWC and covered the travel costs of one of the Dominican delegates to Australia.
Dominica's commissioner to the IWC, Lloyd Pascal, denies Martin's charges and accuses him of trying to destabilize his government. Martin, Mr. Pascal says, is in the pocket of environmental groups who disagree with the stance that whaling is a legitimate industry. "Our vote is not influenced by any consideration of aid. Our vote is influenced by a policy principle," Mr Pascal said. "What is happening is all anti-Japanese bashing."
Japan also denies that it is buying votes. "We are helping 150 countries or more in the world with development," says Joji Morishita, a spokesman for the Japanese IWC delegation. "If the allegation is correct, then there should be 150 countries coming to the IWC and supporting Japan."
According to the latest statistics available from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Japan in 1998 was, for the eighth consecutive year, the No. 1 aid donor worldwide.
Within the IWC, one of Japan's main objectives is the lifting of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. Japan now kills almost 600 whales a year as part of what it maintains is a scientific research program. According to Mr. Morishita, Japan has only two options if it wants the commercial moratorium lifted: bringing new countries into the IWC or convincing the existing antiwhaling factions in the body to change their mind. And "the second thing is very difficult, I agree," Morishita says.
The commission's newest member is the African Republic of Guinea, which many observers say was brought in by Japan, despite never having a tradition of whaling. At this year's meeting it voted in line with Japan on all major decisions. Morocco and Zimbabwe, which both sent observers to this year's meeting, have also been approached by Japan and should they join would likely become part of the Tokyo camp, environmentalists say. All three countries received aid from Japan in 1998, according to the OECD's statistics.
Because the IWC's membership is so small (40 countries at present) and any major change takes a 75 percent majority, the votes of small countries in the IWC carry more weight than they would in other forums.
"Japan now has enough votes to block any conservation vote not to their liking," says John Frizell, Greenpeace's whale campaign coordinator. "One or two more members makes quite a difference here."
Yet Japan may simply be borrowing tactics used by antiwhaling countries to push the moratorium through in 1982.
Between 1978 and 1982, during jockeying before the vote to impose the moratorium, the IWC's membership grew from 17 to almost 40, according to Ray Gambell, the commission's outgoing secretary.
That effort brought several of the Caribbean countries, including Dominica, into the IWC. It also added antiwhaling countries like Austria and Switzerland to the mix - landlocked states that were never whalers and oppose whaling.
"I think it works both ways," Mr. Gambell said.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society